Three Positive Things – March 2021

Sharpened Pencils

I have a thing about sharpened pencils … I’ll admit it (which I guess isn’t a bad thing for a writer!). While I do all my writing and editing on a computer keyboard, having the opportunity once in a while to write with a super pointy pencil on a crisp new sheet of paper feels effortless and fun to me. So …

I was working late in the office on a recent Friday evening. Most people had already left, it was eerily quiet, and I was thinking I should start to wrap up my work and do the same. I knew I would be working remotely for a while again (pandemic hazard), so I looked around to make sure I had everything I needed and that everything in the office was in good shape for my return.

Just like I like to come home to a clean kitchen (no dishes in the sink, etc.), I knew it would make me happy to come back to all freshly sharpened pencils. (I know, a little weird, but there you have it.)

So I took the time to sharpen my various varieties of #2 lead instruments – the ones that say New York Mets and Giants on them, the one that says NASA, the ones with my kids’ college alma maters inscribed on them and even the plain ‘vanilla’ number 2 types that don’t say much of anything.

All the while I was thinking of the headline in Newsday the next day if an intruder did come into my office: “Woman employee attacked last night, but her pencils were all so nicely sharpened.” (Though some more optimistic colleagues and friends suggested they could have served as perfect weapons against a potential assailant.)

The good news is, my pencil collection and I are safe and sound.

As a further admission, I also have a thing about really great electric pencil sharpeners. That Friday evening, I used the one my close friend and former coworker Lois sent me, special delivery, when we both left our previous place of employment. We had shared this ancient – but oh so fantastic – bulky brown sharpener on our communal cubicle wall and it’s followed me on my new career paths every step of the way. (That’s it in the image, with the red little stuffed Mets bear on top of it). Lois, too, loves sharp pencils, and even bought us matching ceramic pencil holders (also shown in one of the images).

I like to think Lois and I are joined in our pointy pencil affection by at least one famous fellow writer – the late great Nora Ephron and perhaps her sister Delia, who co-wrote the movie You’ve Got Mail with her. Near the start of the movie, Tom Hanks’ character says to Meg Ryan’s in an online chat: “Don’t you love New York in the fall? It makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of newly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.”

Not your usual pickup line, for sure, but it worked on Meg and I’m pretty sure it would work for me (and maybe Lois?) too. (And don’t get me started on pencil erasers!)

Tiny Phone Concerts

NPR has these Tiny Desk Concerts with lots of great musical artists, if you haven’t seen, online. We’ve started to have what I call ‘Tiny Phone Concerts’ at home. Call it another pandemic phenomenon, but it’s one of the fun and uplifting things Jim and I have started to do once in a while, in lieu of being able to go out to actual concerts (or anywhere much!).

It started last summer following some outdoor barbecues in the backyard. Jim had just bought a blue tooth speaker for his Samsung cell (which, by the way, he would probably not appreciate me calling ‘tiny’ – we have a little bit of a phone rivalry going on between Samsung and iPhone … call it a house divided?). In any case, he would pick out these great songs that we’d both watch on the small phone screen as they played so nice and loud from the speaker, filling the yard with concert-like energy. Then we’d pass the phone back and forth, each choosing ones to play for the other.

It’s pretty eclectic too. There are often somewhat esoteric, but really rocking, selections from Outlaw Country Sirius Radio. There are older favorites from the 1980s, which bring us right back to our days at SUNY Albany, where we met … like an older, but no worse for wear, REO Speedwagon playing ‘Turn Some Pages’ … man, that brought me back. And there are older picks yet, like the Doors’ live version of ‘Roadhouse Blues’ from 1970, where Jim Morrison yells out that iconic line, “Well I woke up this morning and I got myself a beer” [which sounds more like be-er … two syllables].

We sat at the kitchen table this past Friday evening and played all of that, plus these two amazing live Richard Thompson performances from an Austin City Limits concert: ‘Cooksferry Queen’ and ‘Walking the Long Miles Home’. We got to see him at the now-closed Huntington IMAC Theater on Long Island several years back, though it feels like yesterday in some ways. 

Like so many things over the past year or so, these Tiny Phone Concerts are fun but bittersweet. We were sad about not seeing these artists live, we were longing to go down to Austin, TX to hear and see some great music and, more importantly, see our son Dan again.

But I’m also always about hope springing eternal. And with spring around the corner, and pandemic risks at least starting to ease, I quickly changed my tune to one of happy anticipation. And, in the meantime, we’ll continue to seek out close-to-live online musical experiences right at home.

Great Reads

I continue to find great joy in my little Elwood Library Book Club. We moved to virtual almost a year ago, but I am so grateful we continue to share our thoughts on some wonderful literature the third Wednesday evening of every month … on Zoom, online. My mom still can’t quite adjust the screen so we can see her full face (it’s pretty much from the nose up). And a couple of other women sometimes have difficulty turning on their videos (despite one of our only millennial members, who was also an IT professional, patiently and repeatedly directing them to press ‘Show Video’).

We also often have very differing opinions on the books. But none of that matters in the least. What we have is community, camaraderie, friendship and meaningful discussions. And I love the fact that when I’m reading these old-school paper books (not a screen) I know they are too, and I often have my furry feline reading companions Lucy and Will on my lap or right there by my side.

My three positive things for March! What are yours?

5 thoughts on “Three Positive Things – March 2021

  1. I, not-so-secretly, used that sharpener all the time back in Hicksville. I love taking notes at my desk with a pencil. I’ll use a pen in a meeting. Now that we’ve settled into the new house we’ve started playing music at dinner through the little echo-dot. We’re not sold on a playlist yet and the dog just freaked out and hides when she hear’s Alexa’s voice. I’m looking forward to the kids playing outside, Passover Dinner, and taking a few days off just because.


  2. Ellen, I love that the old pencil sharpener is still going strong! And yes, the Tom Hanks pencil pickup line works for me too!


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